Thursday, June 30, 2016

Language of Confusion: Dict-, Part I

Another multi-part series? The madness! Or maybe I’m just picking very widespread word pieces. This week: words that begin with dict-.

No giggling.

Diction showed up in the mid sixteenth century, but it only meant a word—it was a couple of decades later that it started to morph into what we use it as today. It comes from the Late Latin dictionem, a saying or a word, which can be traced to the classical Latin dicere, speak or say. It can be traced to the Proto Indo European deik, to point out, which just happens to be the origin word of digit because fingers point out literally.

Dictate showed up at the end of the sixteenth century, meaning pretty much what it means today. It came from the classical Latin dictatus, which is just dictated, the past tense of dictare, to dictate. Dictare is a frequentative (repetitive action word, like wrestling is to wrest, as opposed to wresting) of dicere, so we got these two words from different versions of the same word.

Dictator, though related, has quite the history on its own. It showed up in the late fourteenth century, meaning it’s older than all the other words here. It comes from the classical Latin dictator, which means...dictator. I’m not sure what else you were expecting. And it comes from dictare like dictate does, but went through even less changing. I guess English didn’t feel the need to change the word for a tyrannical overlord.

Then there’s dictionary, which showed up in the early sixteenth century before either of the above. It comes from the Medieval Latin dictionarium, a collection of words and phrases (yeah, I see it) and the classical Latin dictionarius, of words, and dictio, expression or word.



  1. As soon as you said, "no giggling" that was it!! I laugh everytime I visit here. Fascinating words again.

  2. How about chuckling? Because too late, I've already done it.

  3. Diction seems relatively rare to use. No shortage of dictators out there, though, including a thin skinned orange coloured fellow with follicle issues and the emotional restraint of a two year old throwing a tantrum.

  4. Ha! Dictator comes from...Dictator!

  5. Dictate--saying words out loud. Makes sense. For a change. (Have you ever done the etymology of word? I bet that's either very convoluted, or more likely, very, very simple.)


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